When Dublin seems as strange as al-Jazeera


Teen Times: Aldi's latest promotional leaflet features toilets at rock-bottom prices. My dad is disappointed that we don't need one. He's still basking in the glory of last month's buy from Lidl.

Armed with a new remote and bombarded with all sorts of channels, I share a little in his pride. DIY satellite dishes are the way to go. Having spent too long being mesmerised by the free miracle water offer on the God channel, I begin to flick. And then I come to it: al-Jazeera. Drifting in the airways, somehow it lands in the box in my living room.

I know no Arabic. So I figure total immersion is the way to go. The woman on the screen is animated and talking gibberish as far as I'm concerned. There's as much chance I'd understand whales communicating as her political interview. It strikes me that I will never understand Arabic. It would be just too hard.

In town I faced the same problem. Having a craving for a chai latte, my friends and I headed for the nearest Starbucks. It was upstairs in BT2.

In front of me in the queue two girls talk in those accents you don't think anyone actually has. All ugg boots and mini-skirts, slicked back "messy" hair and shiny bronze tan. "So I was like scoring this guy for six months," the girl tells us all.

I look at my friend and we exchange a look of bewilderment. And this time I have no choice. We find a table. Total immersion is the only way to go.

Around me are similar faces with similar voices having similar conversations. And it's all as foreign to me as al-Jazeera. Sure I know what they're saying, but do I understand these people?

When do we decide we understand each other? Is it when we speak the same language? Drink in the same pub? Use the same brand of mascara? Or simply when we learn to accept our differences?

On our way out, we pass the baby clothes section. Hilfiger jumpsuits and Ralph Lauren shirts with sleeves the length of your finger. I imagine myself as a mother and realise this world will never be mine.

Yet my world of buying toilets to abide by the principle of a bargain is equally absurd. Maybe realising this is my first step towards a greater understanding of the world around me.

As for Arabic, my immersion was not total. It was cut short by my family demanding I switch back to the God channel. Maybe there's hope after all. And who knows what next month will bring to Aldi? Arabic-for-beginners CD-roms? No prizes for guessing who'll be first in the queue, clutching her chai latte. Better make it "to go" this time.

• Kate Ferguson (18), from Dublin, is about to start her first year at Trinity College Dublin, where she will study English and psychology.

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